Working for the Government: Discrimination Laws

April 11, 2016

Workers usually begin their jobs with hope that their relationship with their employer will be long lasting, positive, and fruitful. It is an unfortunate fact that this does not always end up being the case. Employment discrimination, at its most fundamental level, is bias against an individual or group because of their national origin, race, religion, gender or disability. Employment discrimination affects everyone—even those working in the public sector. Now employees in the public sector working for bodies that perform public services (such as the fire service or police) enjoy extra protection and rights.

This was not always the case.

The accolade for changing the law on discrimination against government employees goes to Frank Kameny. Kameny was a gay man who fought against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality for most of his life. He was discriminated against by the federal government, which barred his employment in 1958 after United States Civil Service Commission investigators questioned him on his sexuality. His tireless, enduring battle against the federal government that occurred afterwards was ground breaking. In turn, he has been honored in the Government’s Labor Hall of Honor thanks to his efforts to end the government’s employment discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Because of Kameny’s efforts, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12968 into law in 1982. The Order states that the United States government can “not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in granting access to classified information.”

Yet discrimination against government employees continues for various reasons.

In 2008, the Coastal Health District of Georgia was forced to pay $60,000 of compensation after it fired an employee simply because of her age. In 2012’s Kloeckner v Solis, a federal employee filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for workplace discrimination on the basis of her age and gender. She was dismissed by her employer in an act of retaliation. The Supreme Court criticized the argument of the federal government in this case, and set a precedent that provides government employees alleging discrimination with greater rights.

In additional to traditional anti-discrimination protections, there are a number of laws relating exclusively to federal employers and the process can be different than that of a private employer. For instance, a federal employee must file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEO rather than the EEOC. If you are experiencing discrimination in the public or private sector—you have options and should contact a lawyer to learn more about what they are.

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